Romans 3:25, Propitiation and the NLT Translation

I must admit that the word propitiation is a minor shibboleth for me. If Romans 3:25, Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:2 and 1 John 4:10 don’t have it, I get negative thoughts. When I found out my NRSV that I carefully chose over two years ago, without having looked at these verses, didn’t have it I almost switched to the ESV immediately before I came to my senses. (I previously used the NIV for 20 years because it’s what everybody else read. When I got more serious I realized I didn’t really like it compared to others even though it’s a fine translation.)

I’ve come to dislike the archaic language in the NRSV and over time have really warmed up to the HCSB for many reasons which I won’t mention because this post is too long already. Except that of course it has the word propitiation. I was 99% sure I was going to switch to this when the update comes out next year but I’m being patient and keeping an open mind.

A quick look at Romans 3:25 in the NLT shows that it doesn’t say propitiation. Oh well. As far as a dynamic equivalent (formerly known as thought-for-thought) translation goes, I like how the NLT does it. But I like the idea of some of the literal aspects of the HCSB.

So I took a look at the first part of Romans 3:25 again in the NLT more carefully:

For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us.

Isn’t that just what propitiation means? Isn’t this better than “atoning sacrifice” or “sacrifice of atonement” that some other translations use? For me this would be so. Again, I’m not disparaging other translations and I know this idea is complex and beyond me to make any authoritative judgments. Reading Douglas Moo’s take on it was confusing to say the least.

This really makes me pause. For some reason I still fight against the idea of using a dynamic equivalent translation as my main Bible. I always wonder if more interpreting is going on than with a more literal approach. I’m still leaning towards the HCSB.

That’s enough rambling for now. Maybe I’ll post again as I become more decisively indecisive.

Comments welcome as always.

14 Responses to “Romans 3:25, Propitiation and the NLT Translation”

  1. 1 ElShaddai Edwards

    Good post, Jeff. I’m beginning to wonder if the translation market is going to break in two directions for the general reader: modestly formal translations like the HCSB and ESV for those who want to study aspects of the original languages, and functional translations like the NLT for those who want to use the Bible as a living document in their lives. I’m beginning to think that the median fence may not be so attractive a place to be as it muddies the waters of both functional and formal translation.

  2. 2 Scripture Zealot

    Thanks. I commented on your blog.

  3. 3 TC

    Jeff, the NLT’s approach satisfies both ideas of expiation and propitiation.  Not a bad approach, I say. 🙂

  4. 4 Scripture Zealot


  5. 5 CD-Host

    El —

    It wouldn’t shock me if that’s what happens but in that case the HCSB and the ESV will find themselves not being formal enough.  Right now both of them are designed for things like: comfortable reading (including outloud), elegance, proper english usage… all of which make the Greek/Hebrew much more obscure. You want to go much much more formal than either of them do to really do a study.  I do like the way the HCSB though has their optimal strategy with the literal translator notes.   

  6. 6 Nathan Stitt

    To be honest, propitiation means nothing to me. I have read it many times, but it really is one of those words that I’d have to look up in a dictionary to be sure of it’s meaning. The NLT on the other hand is completely understandable to me, using English that I would use. I still find myself thankful that I have a copy of every translation mentioned here, and utilize them all at some point, particularly if I’m having trouble with a passage and want a few points of view. Insightful post, thanks.

  7. 7 ElShaddai Edwards

    I’m with you, Nathan – and it’s made worse that the REB uses “expiation” instead, so every time I see it I have to think “propitiation” vs. “expiation” and what does that exactly mean?

  8. 8 Scripture Zealot

    the REB uses “expiation” instead, so every time I see it I have to think “propitiation” vs. “expiation” and what does that exactly mean?

    It means they chose the same word as the RSV. (smiley goes here)

    It’s only part of the equation though as far as I’m concerned.

  9. 9 ElShaddai Edwards

    You can thank C.H. Dodd for that…

  10. 10 TC

    Nathan, you can leave the theological madness to me. 🙂

  11. 11 Mark D. Taylor

    Jeff,Thanks for your comments about the NLT and propitiation. I have created a post at on this subject, with a reference back to your post.
    Mark Taylor

  12. 12 Scripture Zealot

    Thank you for the mention. I didn’t realize that’s the first edition NLT (and didn’t notice the copyright). In this case I copied it from I wonder why they have the older version?

  13. 13 John

    I just wrote a blog post on the word propitiation. I personally don’t think it’s necessary.

  14. 14 Scripture Zealot

    Thanks John. I’ll go read it.

  1. 1 The death of median translations? : He is Sufficient
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